There are some people who fashion their lives in response to happy accidents. Neither Roberto de Leon, Jr., AIA, nor M. Ross Primmer, AIA, is one of those people. Instead the co-principals of Louisville, Kentucky–based De Leon & Primmer Architecture Workshop carefully research and strategically plan everything, leaving nothing to chance. After obtaining their M.Arch. degrees from Harvard, de Leon and Primmer decided to move somewhere that they could make an impact. Reading economic reports of U.S. cities, they discovered that Louisville was one of the top three cities on the brink of an economic upswing. The two architects, who had done some fieldwork in Las Vegas (“It was poised for growth, with a university nearby — a city trying to establish and nurture a creative class,” says de Leon) and Charlotte, North Carolina (same as Vegas), hatched a strategy to set up an architecture firm that would specialize in cultural and nonprofit projects and do so in a city that was gritty but educated enough to appreciate new ideas. They chose Louisville and launched their firm in 2003. “It wasn’t random, but we had no ties here at all,” says Primmer. “Louisville was a mid-tier city that was changing from an industrial-based economy to a service-based economy. Our strengths are in consensus building, and we have an interest in corralling boards. So we decided to focus on nonprofit and cultural organizations. Louisville seemed like a place where we could have a voice.”
Seven years later, their five-person practice is immersed in and sparked by the history and traditions of the region. It is hard at work putting Louisville on the cultural map. De Leon and Primmer have stuck to their original strategy, and the city has embraced their temerity as well as their design prowess. With several institutional and recreational projects moving forward, including the Riverview Park master plan (a $33 million program with sports fields, trails, event venues, a steamboat landing, and shelters on a 70-acre site on the Ohio River, now in construction) and the Children’s Healing Garden (a 6,000-square-foot outdoor interactive environment at Kosair Children’s Hospital), the firm is enriching the community in a very public way.